zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » The black flags of Athens and Athos

The black flags of Athens and Athos

[ by Charles Cameron — mostly about monks vs riot police on the Holy Mountain ]

I’ve written often enough about the black banners in Islamic iconography — here are two examples of black flags from Greece, one of them specifically Christian:

The flag in the upper image you probably know: it’s one version of the Greek nationalist Golden Dawn party flag, with its swastika echo that the party describes as a “meander”. The lower image is described thus by photojourno Nikos Pilos:

Father Paulos is holding the black flag with the white cross, Esfigmenon’s Monastery and zealots’ symbol. The meaning of this flag is “orthodoxy or death “. The monks of Esfigmenon Monastery have stopped since 1972 (time of the patriarch Athinagora, Dimitrio and Vartholomeo) to mention in their preys the name of Constantinople’s Patriarch, blaming him as a heretic because he had and he has conversations with the Pope. The last dramatic episode in the history of one of the earliest Orthodox monasteries, 1500 years after it was first built in Mt Athos, the Holy Mountain in northern Greece.

Let me offer you some angles on what’s given rise to that monk with a black banner


July 29th’s Vatican Insider carried an article titled Patriarchate of Constantinople wages war against rebel monks on Mount Athos, describing the most recent event with a little background:

The Greek government sent riot police to Mount Athos in Northern Greece this morning, to forcibly remove a group of monks from Esphigmenou monastery, one of the twenty monasteries that form part of this famous Eastern orthodox complex. Esphigmenou monastery is renowned for the war it has waged against the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople which it accuses of betraying the Orthodox Church by opening ecumenical dialogue with the Vatican. A war which has been going on since the 70s. According to an Associated Press report, the traditionalist monks threw stones and Molotov cocktails at police and judicial officials as they attempted to storm the building .Patriarch Bartholomew declared the monks of Esphigmenou an illegal brotherhood in 2002 and ordered their eviction. But the monks ignored this, claiming the Patriarch of Constantinople does not have the power to evict them.


In response to news media, the monks posted a friend’s report, Correcting the Record:

I just spoke with one of the Esphigmenou monks, Father Sava, and want to correct the record about the ongoing attacks against the monastery today.

This morning, a group of around 20 large armed men armed attacked the Esphigmenou monastery building in Karyes, Mt. Athos where the monks were engaged in quiet prayer. This is the 12th day that the monastery has been under siege. The monks twice asked for the men to leave in peace after a city clerk attempted to serve them with eviction papers. Then the 20 large men attempted to smash their way into the monastery building with a construction bulldozer. As you can see in the video, uniformed Greek police stood around while a bulldozer attacked the property and attempted to smash down the front door:

This bulldozer came within 15 centimeters of killing a defenseless monk (who was behind the door and did sustain injuries) with its steel blade.

Contrary to media reports, they did NOT throw any bombs. I specifically asked Fr. Sava about these alleged “bombs” and he said that they do not have bombs and did not throw any bombs. It appears Greek government officials are trying to cover up their complicity in these lawless and criminal activities by spreading false reports to media outlet now that their nefarious activity has been exposed. The video of the attack shows that there is no evidence of bombs or aggressive action by the monks.


Finally, here’s the Theology of the dispute, also from the monks’ site:

The fathers of Esphigmenou struggle against the heresy of ecumenism which states that there is no one church which possesses the Truth. The Orthodox Church believes, as the monks of Esphigmenou Monastery believe, that the Church has never lost the Truth or its unity. The Nicene Creed states the Orthodox Church’s dogmatic basis, “I believe in one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I believe in one baptism.” Ecumenism rejects these fundamental truths of the church by teaching that there are many churches and many baptisms.

The beliefs of ecumenism and the beliefs of Orthodoxy are mutually exclusive. You can either believe in the Creed or you can believe in ecumenism, not both. By embracing ecumenism Patriarch Bartholomew has embraced a belief in conflict with the teachings of the Orthodox Church. This is what the monks object to and what they wish to discuss with the Patriarch. There is not a single saint of the Church, ever, who believes in what Patriarch Bartholomew teaches and practices with regards to ecumenism, and this has caused great concern on the part of the monks. The Patriarch refuses to allay those concerns and refuses to engage in constructive dialogue with the monks. He has, however, demanded an apology in writing for questioning him.


DoubleQuote Sources:

  • Golden Dawn black banner: IB Times
  • Monks’ black banner: Nikos Pilos
  • 4 Responses to “The black flags of Athens and Athos”

    1. Mr. X Says:

      Being able to visit the Holy Mountain is one of the greatest dreams of my life.

    2. zen Says:

      This reminds me a little of the dispute over the ultraconservative traditionalist-tridentine French Archbishop who was excommunicated by John Paul II

    3. Charles Cameron Says:

      Archbishop Levebvre. See SSPX, SSPV and sedevacantism. Naturally there are other “extreme” groups and individuals within and around Catholicism, see eg Catholic Womenpriests and Married Priests Now, also (the violence-approving, late) Rev. David Trosch.
      Married Priests Now was founded by the one-time Catholic Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, who was (curiously, for a Catholic archbishop) married with the blessings of Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon.
      Religion is, as Gerard Manley Hopkins would say, dappled…  and endlessly fascinating to those of us with a taste for it.

    4. Mr. X Says:

      I cannot agree with the monks extreme position that all attempts at reconciliation with Rome (but only on Orthodox, not Roman terms of emphasizing common Chalcedonian doctrines rather than post-Schism innovations) are heresy. But neither can I call the person who sends riot police after them and falsely accuses them of terrorism an Orthodox Christian.

    Switch to our mobile site